Like Kakoli and Minakshi,many women of Kumartuli have taken up the business of making deities after the death of their fathers and husbands
As rain started pouring down hard on a humid September afternoon,Kakoli Pal rushes with a handful of plastic sheets towards her workshop a few steps away from her one-room dwelling in Kumartuli. The idols of Durga have just started drying as layers after layers of clay were added on to the bamboo and hay structures. This is not the time to expose them to the wet and destructive side of nature.
Since Saraswati Puja,which is celebrated around February,I started working on this years Durga idols. Already I have got bookings for making 20 idols, says Kakoli after spreading the plastic sheets on her dreams and surety of warm food.
Life has not been kind to this mother of two. After eight years of her marriage,her husband Ashim Pal passed away,a day after Lakshmi Puja,due to a brain stroke. Ashim was an idol-maker with a knack for making beautiful clay models of gods and goddesses and a faithful client base.
After he passed away I didnt know what to do. My elder daughter was seven,while the younger one was one. I needed to feed and raise them. So I took up my husbands trade, adds Kakoli.
Today she runs the idol-making workshop and even has three artisans on her payroll. But after her marriage this daughter of a farmer from Dhubulia in Krishnanagar wasnt allowed by her husband to come out of the household and help him.
My father used to make small clay figurines. I had learnt from him. After my marriage,my husband never allowed me to step into the workshop. I used to make small idols inside the room and show him when he was back from work. This helped me immensely once he had left us, she said.
In another corner of Kumartuli,Minakshi Pal,a Bengali graduate from Scottish Church College,is busy with her troupe of eight workers to combat the Puja rush. Daughter of late Pradip Pal,a sculptor and a renowned idol-maker,Minakshi,took over her fathers workshop after he fell ill four years ago.
My fathers works are there all over the world as he was primarily a sculptor. After he fell ill,I started looking after the workshop and was ably assisted by all the artisans who were an integral part of my fathers team. After his death two years back,I am running the business, says Minakshi,who is married to another idol-maker,Bijan Pal.
Like Kakoli and Minakshi,many women of Kumartuli have taken up the business of making clay deities after the death of their fathers and husbands.
An artisan in his early fifties recounted the tale of Kamakhya Bala,whom he dubbed as the first woman idol-maker of Kumartuli. I remember as a child seeing her work and direct others. She passed away around 15 years ago. I had heard from my elders that she took to idol-making after her husbands death, he says.